Hair is deeply woven into the historical and cultural roots of the Black community. However, Black people have long been discriminated against because of the texture of our hair. This criticism begins at a young age, with a recent study by Dove finding hair discrimination for Black children starts as early as age five and follows them through adulthood.
Growing up, my hair was called difficult or nappy. I also wasn’t taught how to take care of my natural hair, which further contributed to its criticism. Rarely did I wear my natural hair out. Instead, I always relaxed it or wore braids. It wasn’t until my hair became damaged and I cut it all off that I started to appreciate its beauty. This process of learning to love my hair has been gradual and is still ongoing.
My story isn’t unique, as you will find many Black people who have gone through similar experiences. But, that shouldn’t be the case. Black children shouldn’t feel bad about their natural hair; they should feel proud and celebrate it. To make this a reality, we need to break the cycle of hair discrimination. We have to start helping children understand their hair and develop the self-confidence to embrace it.
So, how do we do this? I talked to four natural hair experts who shared their advice on how we can help Black children love their hair.
Kids need to have hair role models and representation.
According to Ph.D. scientist and certified hair practitioner Dr. Gaby Longsworth, "The first thing is for children to have role models or people around them that have their natural hair properly taken care of and demonstrate its beauty."
If Black children only see European representations of hair, there can be a dissonance for them on what is considered beautiful. Parents have to be positive hair role models for their kids and expose them to media that celebrates natural hair. There are now many resources for children to turn to, like Matthew A. Cherry's book Hair Love, dolls from brands like Healthy Roots, and magazines like Sesi.
We have to teach children how to take care of their hair.
Celebrity hairstylist and Juices and Botanics founder Whitney Eaddy says helping children embrace their hair starts with education. She believes when we educate children about their hair, we empower them to challenge any negativity they receive about it.
Like many Black women, Eaddy turned to weaves or straightening her hair because she didn't know how to care for her natural texture. "I never even knew what natural hair felt like," she says. "It wasn’t until college that I started to explore my natural hair."
Now that she's a mother, Eaddy has made it her mission to teach her children the lessons she's learned about natural hair care. "I knew I would never have relaxers in my child’s hair," Eaddy says. "I wanted her never to hear a negative word uttered about her hair."
We need to give children the freedom to experiment with their hair and affirm them along the way.
"Black hair is versatile, and we have to help children take advantage of that," beauty influencer and Melanin Haircare founder Whitney White notes. She says it's important to let children experiment with their hair and not force them only to wear one style. By playing around with different looks, children can learn more about their hair and have a healthy relationship with it.
White also notes it's important to rethink the language we use to discuss our hair. "How we talk about our hair influences our feelings and how other people outside of our community discuss our hair," she says.
We tend to make off-hand comments that a child’s hair is difficult or express frustration when styling their hair. These remarks, although unintentional, might cause the child to regard their hair negatively. It's imperative to be thoughtful about the words we use to help children feel affirmed along their natural hair journeys.
We should advocate for policies to protect our hairstyles.
Black children should be able to wear their afro puffs, braids, locs, and twists to school without punishment. However, we've heard countless stories about Black students being sent home or unable to participate in extracurricular activities because of their hairstyle. Incidents like this continue to highlight the realities of hair discrimination against Black people.
Psychologist and hair historian Dr. Afiya Mbilishaka has extensively studied Black hair, specifically examing the connection between Black women's hair and mental health. To address the longstanding issues of hair discrimination, she advocates for more hair protection policies at schools like the CROWN Act and hair-based professional development for teachers.
"Negative messages [about our hair] can be counteracted with idealizing the diversity of culturally-specific styles that only Black children can wear," Dr. Mbilishaka says.